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Red Hot Christmas by Mara White, K. Larsen (11)




Amber. The Phoenix, which he couldn’t call her anymore now that she had officially introduced herself. He’d have to say, “Hello Amber, Hey Amber, Happy Holidays, Amber!” At least she hadn’t introduced herself by her last name. He was pretty confident that she wasn’t married.  Also confident that she was smoking hot and super endearing, even adorable with her weird mixture of professional executive, sexy dresser, and occasional hot mess. Their interaction was a blessing because he’d been obsessing all day about the Red Shoes profile mystery lady who happened to take intimate portraits of his trainer, confident, and best-friend, Lou.

He shoved his duffel back into his locker and yanked out his backpack, transferring only the necessities and leaving the rest of his junk to drag home tomorrow. He was going to run to the gym. Peebo had his wee wee pad in a corner of the kitchen and could make due until dinner. He stepped out onto thirty-fourth street into the full holiday bustle. The sidewalks were teeming with shoppers carrying bags and tourists clamoring to get shots of the decorated store windows and the landmark buildings. He took off jogging up Sixth Avenue, off the sidewalk, along the side of the street. He jumped up the curb to avoid busses or cabs pulling up to pick up and drop off passengers. The neighborhood was a zoo this time of year. Hell, even in off-season, the area was a no-go zone for New Yorkers with any sense. He did all of his shopping online to avoid the crazy masses. It dawned on him it would be nice to get Amber a gift, but he probably couldn’t afford her taste. Maybe just flowers.

He rounded the corner and sped down seventy-second, checking his watch. Two miles in fifteen minutes. Not terrible with a backpack, traffic lights, traffic and clueless pedestrians.

He slammed his locker and dove into the shower, letting the water jet off the sweat and loosen his shoulders.

He scrubbed his head with a towel and jumped into his Adidas track suit. Put on his lifting gloves and marched out to the free-weight section determined to find Lou and get an answer about the mystery woman. Frankie didn’t usually bring his phone because Lou was against it. He certainly wasn’t allowed to check it during one of their workout sessions. Lou was a spiritual guy and he believed in whole body and mind synergy. He’d be pissed about the phone, but Frankie wanted to get to the bottom of the sexy vixen who apparently knew him.

“Frankie!” Lou said, setting down a barbell. He was working with a young guy named Hans who had just started training a few months ago. Frankie could already see a difference in the guy’s physique. He wondered if the poor kid knew what he was getting into when he hired the master ass-whipper himself to get in shape. “Be with you in five, Frankie,” Lou said, giving him his special handshake.

“Take your time!” Frankie said. He pocketed the phone and picked up the jump rope.

He was covered in sweat by the time the newbie was released. Lou walked over and slipped on his weightlifting gloves.

“Let me show you something,” Frankie said. He tried to catch his breath.

“The Wilhelmina agency called and they want to set up a meeting.”

“Really, that’s fantastic! Who is this?” he shoved the image of Red Shoes in Lou’s face. The rest of what Lou said barely registered.

“Holy crap!” Lou took the phone and studied the image. He looked impressed. The shot was really sexy. “Looks kind of like the one you did with the shower, reminds me of it somehow.”

Frankie cut him off, grabbed the phone, and pulled up the other smoking picture. Lou took it and studied it again. This was the black and white image where the woman’s hair obscured her face.

“Damn, wish I knew Frankie. But I haven’t got a clue.”

“Not your daughter?”

“Sheesh, no! My wife is black. Kids are bi-racial. Besides, my daughters a Marine, she’s not posting those kinds of pictures.”

“Then explain this,” Frankie said, his heartbeat was rising. He pulled up the portrait of Lou on the bench looking centered and focused in all of his guru glory.

“That’s me,” Lou said. He scratched his head and shrugged his tank top exposed shoulders. “Looks like Equinox? In Chelsea? No, maybe Upper East Side?”

“No shit that’s you? But who the hell is she, Lou? One of your clients?”

“I don’t have any clients who look like that. They wear workout clothes. Probably just a random in a gym who likes to snap photos on the down low.”

“Too much of a coincidence,” Frankie insisted.

“How do you mean? You trying to get out of doing work?”

“Never, can’t wait to get started. Like you said, that one similar photo seemed intentional. This one is too. Check out the side by side!” Frankie was raising his voice, practically manic with excitement.

“Looks like you have an admirer, Sherlock. Put that phone away and let’s get to work! Not to overstep my professional boundaries, Frank, but you might need to get laid.”

Frankie sighed and jumped on the treadmill, turned it all the way up to insane and started sprinting.

He couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Lou thought he was an idiot and maybe he was overreacting when he tried to look at it from another’s perspective. Maybe if he weren’t a janitor, he could ask Amber on a date.”

Lou popped up a half hour into his cardio.

“Message her, Romeo, if you think she’s talking to you!”

“Listen, forget it. I shouldn’t have brought it up,” Frankie said looking forlorn.

“Drop and give me fifty push-ups. No negativity on my watch.”

Frankie felt like the living dead when he dragged his corpse through the front door of his apartment. Peebo put up a loud protest, dancing with his front feet all over the kitchen floor and howling.

“You too? Can’t a dude catch a break?” Peebo nipped at his sneakers and continued his nail clacking dance. Frankie grabbed the dog’s tiny jacket and carried him downstairs. Ordered Chinese from the local joint on his street, too tired to cook. Peboo loved Lo mein. Frankie took Advil, fell into bed, and slept like the dead.